Caffeine Intake in Children

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Caffeine is naturally occurring in coffee, tea and cocoa and is added to a range of other popular products including cola and energy drinks. Whereas coffee is a major contributing source of caffeine in the diet of adults, this is usually not the case for children or adolescents, who tend not to acquire a liking for coffee until they are older.

Moderate caffeine intakes are of no concern for the general adult population, however concerns have been raised over high intakes in young children and adolescents50.

Caffeine intake levels in children
The EFSA Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database shows that coffee consumption by children is insignificant and intake by adolescents is very low51, resulting in a negligible caffeine intake from coffee for these age groups. However other sources of caffeine were shown to be present in their diet such as cocoa-based products or other beverages such as soft drinks. U.S. studies suggest that the majority of caffeine consumed by children and adolescents comes from other caffeinated beverages such as ‘energy’ drinks52,53.

A large and thorough risk assessment of caffeine intake among children and adolescents in Nordic countries was published in 2008 in which the authors stated that very few children consumed coffee before they were 13 years of age54. A recent study of the Austrian population did not include intake data for children/adolescents under the age of 14 years55.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in its Scientific Opinion on Caffeine (EFSA 2015) suggested that caffeine intakes of 3 mg/kg body weight per day provides a basis for calculating caffeine intakes of no concern for children and adolescents.

They also advised that, as in adults, caffeine doses of about 1.4 mg/kg body weight may increase sleep latency and reduce sleep duration in some children and adolescents, particularly when consumed close to bedtime.

Caffeine and children’s health
There is limited data available on this topic. However, a recently published systematic review on caffeine in the diet of children and adolescents found that higher intakes of caffeine (>5 mg/kg bodyweight per day) were associated with an increased risk of anxiety and withdrawal symptoms, whilst moderate intake levels (2.5 mg/kg bodyweight per day) were not linked with such effects and indeed may benefit cognitive function and sports performance based on the results of adult studies. The author highlights the need for further studies to determine the potential health impact of caffeine intakes in children, especially with respect to possible long term effects of regular caffeine intake on their developing body and mind and whether there may be benefits for alertness and sports performance with moderate intakes of caffeine56.

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